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    Wednesday, June 19, 2024

    Fischer and former Hamas hostage meet Israeli president

    Jerry Fischer plays the Israeli national anthem on his piano in his Waterford home on Friday, May 24, 2024.

    Waterford ― Earlier this month resident Jerry Fischer and a cousin who was kidnapped by Hamas last October and then released met with Israeli President Isaac Herzog.

    Fischer’s cousin, Liat Beinin, a mother of three, was kidnapped when Hamas attacked several Kibbutzes on the Israeli-Gazan border, killing over 1,200 Israelis and abducted around 250 hostages on Oct. 7, 2023.

    The attack claimed the life of her husband, Aviv Atzili. Beinin, 49, who holds a dual U.S.-Israeli citizenship was released from captivity on Nov. 29, 2023.

    Fischer, the former executive director of the Jewish Federation of Eastern Connecticut, said Beinin was initially scared the meeting with Herzog would just be a photo opportunity. But Fischer said Herzog’s intimate demeanor was candid and he assured them that his main priority was securing the return of the hostages.

    “It turned out that it was a serious meeting,” Fischer said on Friday. “We found a man who was incredibly empathetic and sympathetic and just listened. He asked questions and he listened. It was remarkable.”

    Herzog, who noticed Beinin holding a letter in her hands, asked to read it. It was a message she had written, expressing her concerns, fears, and feelings about the conflict. Reading its contents, Fischer said Herzog asked the room to be cleared of press and staff so they could have a private discussion.

    Herzog then began to open up about his concerns with the current Israeli government and his hope that the far-right order would become more balanced, Fischer said.

    “He is so concerned about the extreme right-wing government that's in power now. … He said, ‘Our country needs to be centered,’” Fischer recalled.

    A New York native, the 74-year-old Fischer first traveled to Israel in 1966. He said he quickly fell in love with the nation where he met Jews, Muslims and Christians from all walks of life.

    That time in Israel has stuck with Fischer. He grew secure that there was a place for Jewish lives to exist, love and live. On Oct. 7, that sense of security quickly eroded.

    “Israel has lost faith in its government. And to some degree has lost faith in the army,” he said about the hours it took for the Israeli military to respond to the Oct. 7 attacks.

    In recent weeks, the once-unified Israeli War Cabinet has weakened, as concerns over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s war strategy mount throughout the nation. Growing calls from Israelis, including families of hostages have demanded a deal be reached to retrieve hostages, according to Israeli media.

    Fischer is increasingly skeptical of Netanyahu’s leadership. With 30,000 deaths in Gaza and a humanitarian disaster, Israel is becoming more isolated in the international community. Israel has also struggled to unite and liberate hostages from Gaza.

    Even American criticism is growing, with Gen. C.Q. Brown, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, suggesting Israel’s war strategy is “ceding ground for Hamas to return.”

    Despite growing tensions between the American and Israeli governments, Netanyahu plans to deliver a speech to a joint session of Congress, a move Fischer is deeply critical of.

    “It makes me sick,” said Fischer.

    Fischer remains worried that far-right religious fanaticism on both sides will prevent the release of the hostages and the establishment of a Palestinian state.

    He says a deal normalizing relations between the Arab world, specifically Saudi Arabia, and Israel is the only way for a peaceful tomorrow. But he isn’t sure that the right-wing Israeli government has an appetite to establish stability in the region.

    “I’m hopeful because of Saudi Arabia. I’m not hopeful on the Israeli side,” he said.

    t.wright@theday.com

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